Saturday, February 28, 2009

Even More Randomness

And now, for some Randomness

Friday, February 27, 2009

Milton Friedman on Greed

Milton Friedman was an American Nobel Laureate economist and public intellectual. An advocate of economic freedom and personal liberty, Friedman made major contributions to the fields of macroeconomics, microeconomics, economic history and statistics. In 1976, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for his achievements in the fields of consumption analysis, monetary history and theory, and for his demonstration of the complexity of stabilization policy. (This summary taken from here.) Amazingly, he was originally a a Keynesian supporter of the New Deal and advocate of high taxes. His own work lead him away from those theories.

This is from a 1979 interview with Phil Donahue. I've provided a transcript below.

[Note: Rephrasing was not transcribed]

Phil Donahue: "When you see around the globe the maldistribution of wealth, the desperate plight of millions of people in underdeveloped countries, when you see so few haves and so many have nots, when you see the greed and the concentration of power within, did you ever have a moment of doubt about capitalism and whether greed's a good idea to run on?"

Milton Friedman: "Well, first of all, tell me, is there some society you know that doesn't run on greed? You think Russia [then the U.S.S.R.] doesn't run on greed? You think China doesn't run on greed? What is greed? Of course none of us are geedy. It's only the other fellow who's greedy. [Audience laughter]

"The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests. The great achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus. Einstein didn't construct his theory under order from a bureaucrat. Henry Ford didn't revolutionize the automobile industry that way.

"In the only cases in which the masses have escaped from the kind of grinding poverty you're talking about, the only cases in recorded history, are where they've had capitalism and largely free trade. If you want to know where the masses worst off, it's exactly in the kinds of societies that depart from that. So that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear: That there is no alternative way so far discovered of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by a free enterprise system."

Phil Donahue: "But it seems to reward not virtue as much as ability to manipulate the system."

Milton Friedman: "And what does reward virtue? You think the communist commissar rewards virtue? You think a Hitler rewards virtue? You think, excuse me, if you'll pardon me, do you think American presidents reward virtue? Do they choose their appointees on the basis of the virtue of the people appointed, or on the basis of their political clout? Is it really true that political self interest is nobler somehow than economic self interest? You know I think you're taking a lot of things for granted. And just tell me where in the world you find these angels who are going to organize society for us."

Phil Donahue: "Well..."

Milton Friedman: "I don't even trust you to do that." [Audience laughter]

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The 2% Solution

That's the title of the WSJ opinion piece. Obama says he's going to pay for massive entitlement increases by taxing the rich. The problem, as the WSJ points out, is that the money just isn't there

But let's not stop at a 42% top rate; as a thought experiment, let's go all the way. A tax policy that confiscated 100% of the taxable income of everyone in America earning over $500,000 in 2006 would only have given Congress an extra $1.3 trillion in revenue. That's less than half the 2006 federal budget of $2.7 trillion and looks tiny compared to the more than $4 trillion Congress will spend in fiscal 2010. Even taking every taxable "dime" of everyone earning more than $75,000 in 2006 would have barely yielded enough to cover that $4 trillion.

Fast forward to this year (and 2010) when the Wall Street meltdown and recession are going to mean far few taxpayers earning more than $500,000. Profits are plunging, businesses are cutting or eliminating dividends, hedge funds are rolling up, and, most of all, capital nationwide is on strike. Raising taxes now will thus yield far less revenue than it would have in 2006.

Now keep in mind, the tax burden is disproportionately on the wealthy, in fact massively so:
Consider the IRS data for 2006, the most recent year that such tax data are available and a good year for the economy and "the wealthiest 2%." Roughly 3.8 million filers had adjusted gross incomes above $200,000 in 2006. (That's about 7% of all returns; the data aren't broken down at the $250,000 point.) These people paid about $522 billion in income taxes, or roughly 62% of all federal individual income receipts. The richest 1% -- about 1.65 million filers making above $388,806 -- paid some $408 billion, or 39.9% of all income tax revenues, while earning about 22% of all reported U.S. income.
Mr. President, there just isn't enough money for the sunshine and lollipops you want to give away. I just hope Americans will figure this out in time.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fact Checking Obama

It continues to amaze me how people care about what Obama says, when it's so often unrelated to what he does (or is simply provably false). Some detailed fact checking of last night's speech is over here at redstate, but the single most galling claim in my opinion is that Obama claims the debt he's facing is inherited. Check out the "inheritance" yourself:

Monday, February 23, 2009

Arctic Ice not really disappearing

If you have read my previous posts, you know I don't believe in human-caused global warming. From all I've read, changes in climate seem to correlate much better to solar activity than to human activity.

One more piece of evidence is that it seems we simply misplaced 193,000 square miles of arctic sea ice. It's still disappearing, scientists hasten to add, but a faulty sensor had us thinking the problem was worse than it is.

I'm all for cleaner sources of power. I'm not for over-hyped global panic.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Taxing the Wealthiest Americans

Class warfare has a long history in our nation, and is often used by politicians to create things no one really wants. The 16h Amendment came out of just such a mistake. We really haven't slowed down much since then.

President Obama is facing a big problem with deficits, especially given the recently passed spending bill (entertainingly called the "Porkulus Bill" and the "Swindle Us Bill"). Predictably, he has the old solution ready: Let's soak the rich!

Most of us will immediately recognize we're not rich, and happily abandon the founding ideals of our nation to allow someone else to pay for the nation's expenses. However, there's a problem with that, and one most people may not be aware of.

The problem with the term "Wealthiest Americans" is that it doesn't just refer to people with massive incomes. It also hits small business. How? Many small businesses are corporations that have filed a Small Business Election with the IRS, meaning they're taxed as individuals. When you think of the income required for a small business to operate, it's significantly higher than an individual or household. That means if they are to be even minimally successful, most small businesses fall into the category of the "Wealthiest Americans" and are taxed as such.

If you're still not seeing a problem, take into account that according to the Small Business Administration, 60 to 80 percent of jobs since the 1990's have been created by small business. When you raise an individual's taxes, he or she will cut back in order to compensate. Small businesses do the same. How does a small business afford higher payments to the government? Usually, by making do with fewer hands to do the same jobs. In other words, they fire people.

One of the problems we're facing in our economy is that we sell to and buy from one another. We're a service economy now, producing very little. That means in order for you or me to succeed, we need a solid base of customers who are also employed. Once unemployment starts to rise, income to all of our businesses declines and soon more companies must fire people to stay solvent, creating a death spiral for the economy.

California has been pursuing this course for years, resulting in more than 140,000 established tax paying people leaving the state last year. With new tax increases this year, we can expect this to continue until, like Massachusetts, California faces a negative population emergency. Well, okay, with our sanctuary cities accepting in droves newcomers in need of public assistance, the state will probably not suffer a gross negative population change, but will very likely continue to see "revenue" (tax income) decline as those who can afford to do it leave for states with much more fair tax structures.

If you think people and companies can't or won't leave the United States for greener pastures, think again. It's already been happening, which is also part of our economic problems. There are still a few places where one can do business without constant government theft and intrusion. Many European countries have realized this and lowered their corporate taxes, attracting businesses from many other locations. Taxes on individuals are still high, but the corporations come to take advantage of a more favorable tax environment for business.

The key to maximizing income from taxes lies not in endlessly raising them, but creating an environment that encourages income-generating businesses to thrive. When growth is promoted, a lower tax rate can yield significantly higher income for government. Raising taxes too high strangles business and forces it to move elsewhere, depriving government of any tax income from departing enterprises.

In short, if you want to keep your job, the solution is not to soak the rich, but to insist on economic principles that actually work to create prosperity for everyone.

An Accidental Change to the Constitution: The 16th Amendment

If you note that this is a slightly different format from other posts, you're right. I wanted to refer to it in my next post, but realized I'd never transferred it to this blog from my previous blog. Though it was originally written in April 2007, the information is still both interesting and relevant.

If you enjoy history, the 16th Amendment is quite a wild ride. It doesn’t seem like it would be, but most people agree, it was a political stunt gone very awry. It was amendment proposed by people who opposed income tax to demonstrate their willingness to force egalitarianism on the rich to gain popularity and power. Ironically, they decided to force it to be an amendment because they didn’t think the three-fourths majority of the states would ratify it (some contend they never did, but that’s another story), but had it been passed simply as a law, it probably would have been struck down as unconstitutional, just as previous attempts at direct taxation without apportionment had been twice before.

Make no mistake, the 16th Amendment is the law, and you can’t dodge it by saying it was never ratified or that it is at odds with other parts of the Constitution, though those are both arguably true. Article I, section 9 of the Constitution is very clear.[1] Tax audits unconditionally violate the 4th Amendment.[2] Finally, special tax courts in which there’s no jury or defense counsel can’t even pretend to satisfy the 6th Amendment. [3] But don’t worry, your rights aren’t in jeopardy unless the government wants your money.

Prior to the 16th Amendment, income tax had only been permitted during times of war, because wars are expensive, but once exposed to that kind of income, the government really had trouble letting go, and constantly sought new ways to enlarge their budget so that they might wisely spend your hard-earned dollars on worthy projects like income redistribution, or in 2007, $4,500,000 for chitosan bandage component which utilizes natural compounds found in shrimp heads.[4] I can't possibly imagine any way the average American could have found a much more productive way to spend four and a half million dollars.

The sad part of all this is that none of it was necessary. There ways much fairer and simpler to fund a Federal budget. My favorite is the flat tax. I recognize that the modern world requires (at least) highways and a standing army, two projects that arguably might be better handled by private companies, but for now are the province of government. By 2007, 14 foreign nations and 8 of our domestic states had implemented flat tax systems (two of the states have it as an optional system).[5] I like this method of taxation because it’s transparent. The IRS and tax preparing agencies would mostly be out of work (sorry, I know it’s lucrative, but these are smart people who can find jobs elsewhere). It’s fair on a level that appeals to most people, and hard to cheat, so audits largely become a thing of the past, and there’s no need for special tax courts. Where it has been implemented, the flat tax has been successful, and allows more money to be used in the business of government, less in the maintenance of tax bureaucracies, special tax courts and bulky tax code.

As much as I like the flat tax, I have to admit there’s another solution that’s even more in keeping with the Constitution, and that’s a national sales tax, often called a fair tax. It’s even less intrusive and less costly. Nearly no IRS would be required, and no one would ever have to fill out a tax form. A “flat tax” is still graduated in that if one makes more, one pays more. Sure, if I’m paying my flat fifteen percent of, say $30,000 per year, that’s the same percentage as the guy who makes $30,000,000 per year, but I give only $4,500 to Uncle Sam, while he pays $4,500,000. A national sales tax of fifteen percent means I’ll pay the same amount of money as the rich guy if we buy the same item. The government gets its money, the rich guy is not penalized for making a heck of a lot more money, but he can voluntarily pay more in taxes by buying big ticket items, as the wealthy are often wont to do.

The only big objection I’ve seen to these tax systems that are so fair even a quarrelsome 2nd grader would likely approve, is that they aren’t progressive enough. That is, they don’t soak the rich. I believe that voluntary egalitarianism on the part of the wealthy goes a long way to preserving a stable democracy and eliminating human suffering, but the key is that it should be voluntary. America was founded on different ideas than most countries, and one of them was that the government is supposed to govern as little as possible. Income redistribution was never supposed to end up in the hands of our politicians, and we’re arguably worse off now that a large percentage of the federal budget goes to direct hand outs. A person is also supposed to be able to make it in America and become wealthy without being punished for it. The rich under the current system have the power to and do get laws passed that allow them to end up paying a smaller percentage of their income than the average middle-class family while simultaneously feeling justified in doing so because the tax code is blatantly unfair. Replace the graduated tax system with something as egalitarian as America’s founding ideals, and not only would we save a lot of money, we might get a real “fair share” out of the wealthy without them feeling gouged.

[1] Article 1, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution (relevant section):
"No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or enumeration herein before directed to be taken."

[2] Amendment IV:
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

[3] Amendment VI:
"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence."

[4] Specifically, see the section on pork for Hawaii.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Watch Arnold Break a Promise

Here's the governor in 2006:

"I've said it before and I will say it again, I will not raise taxes on the people of California, period."

The California Republicans Commit Suicide

Last night, the CA GOP put a gun to their own collective heads.

Not only did Abel Maldonado cave on raising taxes, he claimed to get the gas tax increase removed. Unfortunately, it was actually a swap. He dropped the gas tax for an increase of the income tax.
Leaders also agreed to Maldonado's demand to eliminate the 12-cent additional gas tax, which was estimated to bring in $2.1 billion through June 2010, and up to a 5 percent surcharge on income tax liability. The money will be replaced with a 0.25 percent increase in the state income tax rate, federal stimulus dollars and more than $600 million in line-item vetoes.
Well, ain't that grand.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Preempting the Revolution

Update 2-16-09: Here is a link to a related article. Rather than do a new post, I'm just updating this post with the link.

Everybody knows that the US Government is going bankrupt. The only thing that has kept total insolvency at bay this long is the fact that foreigners are buying up an unbelievable volume of our government bonds.

But we could fix it.

Here is a simple plan.

Send a clear message to the American people, and to the rest of the world: Government isn't the solution to the problem. Government is the problem.

Entitlements, specifically medicaid, medicare, and social security retirement benefits will be dialed back (across the board) 4% per year for the next 25 years until they are zero percent of the federal budget. I'm not sure if I said this right. If the collective payouts for medicaid, medicare, and social security is $100, then the first year the payout would be reduced to $96, the following year reduced to $92 and so on. Across the board. So if your Grandpa is receiving $100 this year, the family is going to have to figure out how to come up with the $4 to fill in the gaps. If there is a government office that does back end administrative work for these programs. Administrative law judges who decide social security cases? Shrink shrink shrink. That office will receive 4% less funding next year. How are they supposed to get everything done? What if a medicaid provider currently gets paid $100 for an office visit? Next year the clinic will be able to charge the medicaid program $96 for the service. Market forces will adjust supply accordingly. There will be layoffs. There will be offices vacated and facilities sold to the private sector by the federal government. People will re-join the private sector.

Taxes currently used to fund these programs will be reduced by 1% per year and the 3% spread will be used to reduce our dependence on selling treasury bonds, and once revenue is in the black, will be used to buy back treasury bonds. What I mean by reducing the taxes by 1% per year is this. If the tax rate is 8% this year. Next year it will be reduced to 7.92%, and the following year it will be reduced to 7.84%.

You'll notice that the spending is being throttled back faster than the taxes. That's the way it should be done given the size of the deficits we've been running.

What about all the people currently counting on these benefits? The market signals need to be consistent. These benefits are going to shrink. If you need health care, or a place to live when you get older, it isn't the government responsible for providing the solution. Or it will still be part of the solution, but less and less and less for the next 25 years.

But why start with the entitlement programs? Ah! Exactly. We shouldn't just target medicaid, medicare, and social security. Everything should undergo scrutiny. We should target those things first though because they are the biggest approaching liability. The entitlement programs also go a long way to defining our relationship with government. That relationship needs to undergo a fundamental change. And eliminating entitlement programs will fix the current and all future budget crises. As long as it is dialed back slowly so people can adjust their lives, it's a hard decision that needs to be made.

What about the military? That's a huge part of the federal budget. I have some thoughts on this, but to be brief I think the military budget needs to be smaller than it is, more of a self funding thing, and mandatory for all males to be used as a vehicle to instill national pride, national strength, and national sacrifice. Maybe I'll write more about this in the future.

There are other huge chunks of the federal budget. They should be shrunk. All aspects of the government should be analyzed to see how we can bring in market forces to solve the problems government 'solves'.

There are lots of different sides to this debate. I don't always think market forces are the best way to solve the problems. But market forces usually are the best way, especially if checks and balances are in place to reduce opportunistic behavior and concentrations of power.

I'm about to press 'publish post'. And it makes me feel a bit vulnerable, because what I'm talking about is a pretty simplistic solution to the problem. I know its overly simplistic. If I were to go line by line and look at specifically what our entitlement budget goes toward, I probably would decide to keep spending some of that money on entitlement programs. On the other hand, it really is this simple. All it takes is leadership. We listen to the news, and talk about how tough times are ahead because the system is bankrupting itself. It doesn't have to be that way.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Seeds of Revolution

If our republic were a car, I'd describe it this way: it's an old car that creaks a lot, and every time you hear a noise, you listen carefully to see if that noise is the one that means the car is going to fall apart. (I know this feeling, because one of our cars last year snapped the timing chain, ending the engine.)

It seems every headline I see with respect to the state or federal government is like this. I read it and wonder, "will this be the last straw that causes revolution?"

A small list:

Texas crafts plan for Mexico collapse
Governor, key legislators reach deficit-fixing accord (including $14 Billion increased taxes)
Judges back a one-third reduction in state prison population (that means releasing convicted felons)
Ruin Your Health With the Obama Stimulus Plan (yep, the federal "stimulus" plan is a 680-page document with 200+ pages radically changing how health care in the US works)
16 illegals sue Arizona rancher (yes, a man who's caught 12,000 illegal aliens coming across the border on his land, killing animals and vandalizing his property is being sued by 16 of those same criminals).

Under normal circumstances, I can't imagine revolution or civil war in the US. However, as more and more people feel the government is acting against their interests and not listening, they will discard the vote as an option and turn to the gun.

All it will take is sufficient civil unrest. And the Texas story is a potential source of it. My nightmare scenario:
  1. Mexico collapses, people stream across the borders
  2. Texas responds with armed forces to maintain order
  3. Federal government says, "hey don't do that, it's not nice"
  4. TX says, "go to hell feds, we're handling this"
  5. Civil unrest occurs, overwhelming local law enforcement
  6. Revolution
Of course, if people feel that their elected representatives are listening to them, this can be prevented (or I could just be wrong, which I hope is the case). It's a shame that legislators don't seem to understand this.

Call your legislators. I talked with my California legislators' offices yesterday, and they seem to be listening to me. Hopefully they're not in the minority.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Higher Taxes in California

Stunning. California is at or near the top in sales tax, income tax and business tax. Government has doubled in 10 years. And now with a huge deficit, the legislators are going to raise the sales tax (1 cent on the dollar, or about a 14% increase in sales tax revenue), double the vehicle license fee, and even add a "surcharge" on income tax. Yep, they're actually taxing taxes.

If you're in California, call your legislators. Try to stop this.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Central Planning Never Works

In the discussion about a stimulus, some people are saying legislators should drop ideology and just "do something", presumably something that works to stimulate the economy.

But central planning doesn't work, nor has it ever worked. Thomas Sowell's Basic Economics explains precisely why. Fundamentally, central planning destroys information:
Under both capitalism and socialism, the scarcity of knowledge is the same, but the way these different economies deal with it can be quite different. The problem is not simply with the over-all scarcity of knowledge, but also with the fact that this knowledge is often fragmented into tiny bits and pieces, the totality of which is not known to anybody.

Imagine the difficulties of an oil company headquartered in Texas trying to decide how much gasoline-and what kinds-will be needed in a filling station at the corner of Market and Castro Streets in San Francisco during the various seasons of the year, as well as in thousands of other locations across the country. The people who actually own and operate the filling stations at all these locations have far better knowledge of what their particular customers are likely to buy at different times of the year than anybody in a corporate headquarters in Texas can hope to have.

Variations can be great, even within a single city at a single time. If people who live in the vicinity of Market and Castro Streets in San Francisco own more sports cars than people who live near the filling station at 19th Avenue and Irving Street, then the filling station owner at Market and Castro is likely to order more premium gasoline than the filling station owner who sells to people with cheaper cars that use cheaper gasoline or to truckers who want diesel fuel. No single person at any given location-whether at a filling station or in corporate headquarters-can possibly have all this information for the whole country at his fingertips, much less keep updating it for thousands of filling stations from coast to coast as the seasons and the neighborhoods change. But that is wholly unnecessary in an economy where each kind of fuel simply goes wherever the money directs it to go.

The amount of such highly localized information, known to thousands of individual filling station owners scattered across the United States, is too enormous to be transmitted to some central point and then be digested in time to lead to government allocations of fuel with the same efficiency as a price-coordinated market can achieve. No oil company knows or cares about this detailed information. All they know is that orders are pouring in for diesel fuel in North Dakota this month, while Massachusetts is buying lots of premium gasoline and Ohio is buying mostly regular unleaded. Next month it may be a totally different pattern and the oil company may not have any more clue about the reasons for the new pattern than about the reasons for the old. But all that the oil company has to do is to supply the demand, wherever it is and for whatever reason. Their job is infinitely easier than the task facing central planners under socialism.

The significance of free market prices in the allocation of resources can be seen most clearly by looking at situations where prices are not allowed to function. Two Soviet economists described a situation in which their government raised the price it would pay for moleskins, leading hunters to get and sell more of them:

State purchases increased, and now all the distribution centers are filled with these pelts. Industry is unable to use them all, and they often rot in warehouses before they can be processed. The Ministry of Light Industry has already requested Goskomsten twice to lower the prices, but "the question has not been decided" yet. This is not surprising. Its members are too busy to decide. They have no time: besides setting prices on these pelts, they have to keep track of another 24 million prices.

--Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics, Chapter 5 (emphasis mine)
This is one of the reasons (perhaps the second most important, the first being freedom) the free market is superior. It allows us to make decisions with prices conveying information about how much value is placed on certain goods and services.

The current package selects where money should go based on political expediency--it has little to do with where resources are needed or desired.

The quick way to get money into the economy is with a tax cut. A real tax cut, not a welfare program paying checks to people who don't pay taxes. That way, individuals can send their money to the resources that are really of value in the economy.

Even FDR's Treasury Secretary (Henry Morgenthau Jr. ) said their efforts failed, on May 9, 1939:
We have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work. And I have just one interest, and now if I am wrong somebody else can have my job. I want to see this country prosper. I want to see people get a job. I want to see people get enough to eat. We have never made good on our promises. I say after eight years of this administration, we have just as much unemployment as when we started. And enormous debt to boot.
Can we learn from history, please?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Nuclear Solution

Recently, Jay and I made a couple of comments about nuclear power. I'm a huge proponent, as it's the cleanest, safest and most efficient power humankind has yet discovered. I've posted much of this information before, but if you haven't read it, it's worth a bit of your time.

In the way of new technologies, I've recently found out about a reactor type called the "Pebble Bed" reactor. It's an amazing concept. The idea was to create a reactor that wasn't essentially an engine. Traditional reactors use control rods that can be raised or lowered to slow down or speed up the reaction. For civilian power use, continuous, reliable output works just fine in most reactors, especially as we learn to better store power produced in off-peak hours.

As the population of our nation continues to grow, our needs grow with us. Even with the current push toward conservation and reducing personal power consumption, our need for increased supply of electricity won’t ever shrink.

There’s only one responsible solution, and it may come as a shock. We need more nuclear power plants. Over the last 30 years we’ve actually come to depend more on nuclear energy, not less. Hydroelectric power is at capacity–we’ve tapped most of our resources. We could expand to tidal power generation, but that would involve expensive development and it’s only viable for coastal states. Compared to 30 years ago, we actually generate less power using hydroelectric plants and oil plants today than we used to. In 1973, about 30% of the nation’s power was generated from these two fuels. Today, it’s more like 10%. Nuclear energy, however, has gone from supplying us with 5% of our power to 20%, and we haven’t even built new plants, we’ve just renovated the old ones and brought them up from about 50% capacity to over 90%.

Why haven’t we built new plants? We have an extreme cultural bias against nuclear power. We still bear the guilt of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and fear the power we unleashed there. Ironically, the Japanese are way ahead of us, generating 37% of their power with modern reactors with plans to bump that up to 41% by 2009.

In addition to our guilt, the peace movements of the 70’s and environmentalists that arose from those cannabis-scented days have ingrained upon us a simple formula: nuclear equals bad. Some cities, like Berkeley, California, proudly proclaim themselves nuclear free zones. Is there danger in nuclear power? Absolutely, but not to the degree we’ve been led to believe. The worst case scenario is Chernobyl, an out of control reaction. 56 people died at Chernobyl, and the total death toll from radiation directly and cancers arising from radiation is expected to reach around 4,000. While that’s not good, compare it to more than 5,000 coal mining deaths worldwide per year, and note that since petroleum gas is only skyrocketing in price, new power will have to come either from nuclear plants or coal-fired plants.

How do we prevent more Chernobyl-style accidents? In theory, they’re next to impossible today. France is generating more than 70% of its power using nuclear generators, with no major incidents. They may have had unexpected shut downs, but no emergencies or accidents. Chernobyl happened for a couple of reasons, including the fact that the reactor had no containment vessel and the engineers, who could have prevented it, were reluctant to do so because of the negative personal consequences that may have resulted in their near totalitarian political state.

The only commercial nuclear accident in the United States was Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island reactor, and that incident was more to nuclear power what Apollo 13 was to the space program: a very successful failure. The containment vessel worked perfectly, and though the reactor was damaged no radiation escaped and there was no explosion. Unlike Apollo 13, which was followed by many further missions into space, Three Mile Island spelled the end to new plants in the U.S. Despite the fact that incident demonstrated the effectiveness of containment technology and that it was the only one of more than 100 reactors in the U.S. to fail, we haven’t built any new plants since then due mainly to popular bias against them.

Technology has only gotten better in the intervening 25 years since Three Mile Island, and new plants would be the safest yet. Even better, new reactors can use up more of their initial fuel and use recycled fuel, reducing waste. Some of them can be designed to not only react safely, but at such a high temperature that they can be used not only to generate electricity, but split water, creating a cheaper source of hydrogen to power hydrogen fuel cells, which are ultimately the most promising technology to replace our antiquated combustion engine technology (hybrid engines are a great bridge, but not the end goal).

What about that waste? Within 40 years, nuclear waste is only one thousandth as radioactive as it was when it was removed from the plant. While it will give off some radiation for many years, that radiation becomes much less dangerous much more quickly than we’ve been led to believe. The nature of a half life is such that radiation emitted never drops to zero, but it does become safe, and eventually nearly undetectable. The U.S. has also lifted its ban on recycling nuclear waste–much of it can be reused and re-enriched. Finally, of all the countries using nuclear power, the U.S. is one of the very few that has plenty of geologically stable wasteland suitable for long-term storage.

Solar and wind powers are promising, but variable output technologies. They can’t replace coal-fired plants, at least not in the near future. The price of oil is only going up, and we don’t want to depend on foreign oil and continue to be involved with the problems of the Middle East because of our addiction to oil as our primary source of power. In the end, we will be left with the choice of coal-fired plants or nuclear power plants. Even with good scrubbers on the emissions stacks, coal-burning plants put pollutants into the air. Leaving out the argument about human-caused global climate change, why pollute the air at all? Nuclear waste, the big boogeyman of years past, is not just manageable, but much of it is recyclable.

If you do believe global warming is man-made, nuclear energy is a foregone conclusion. For example, if we replaced our current hundred nuclear power plants with combustion plants due to our unreasoning fear of fission, we’d be putting an additional 200 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air every year. If we replaced our more than 600 coal-fired plants with nuclear technology we’d reduce our carbon dioxide output by some 2 billion tons per year.

No presently viable energy source is ideal for the United States at this time, but given the options, it’s time to go green. Glowing green and nuclear, to be specific. Whether you’re against pollution or against paying exorbitant amounts of money to Middle East dictators, this is the solution that works.

For more information, you may want to read articles by Dr. Patrick Moore, Ph.D. and founder of Greenpeace. Shockingly, he’s pro-nuclear energy (he’s broken with Greenpeace). He’s also carefully researched it and presented very cogent arguments on the subject. For a couple of examples, visit:


Friday, February 6, 2009

They Just Mapped Photosynthesis

I remember being in elementary school, then in Junior High, then High School, then College. Everytime it came up I wondered when we as a civilization were going to figure out how photosynthesis works.

Now they did it. Awesome.

Now I just want to figure out how to splice DNA of chloryphyll into my skin so I don't have to wear sunblock and I can get energy from the sun.

Don't tell me you haven't fantasized about that before.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Can we impeach the Speaker of the House for being bad with numbers?

The House of Representatives is responsible for a lot money related numbers, so I'm a bit worried about someone who doesn't handle them well being in charge of all that math.

If you're not current on census figures, we have about three hundred million people in the U.S., with around half of them in our workforce.

Nancy Pelosi evidently has trouble with numbers. Here's what she said yesterday:

I'd have called her dumb as a sack of toenails, but this clip makes it clear it's really just a misstatement (at about 1 minute 10 seconds):

Still, you'd think she had a better head for numbers. Do we really want this person in charge of massive spending bills?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Uncomfortable Truth in Humor

I mean to post this clip some time ago. The last place I expected this comparison was on John Stewart's show, but he did a great job and it was funny.